The transition of Des Moines from military outpost to state capital wasn't an easy one. In the twenty years following the construction of the first fort there, Des Moines was abandoned before being resettled by pioneers, those new settlements were destroyed by floods and its economy almost destroyed by the Civil War of the late 19th century. It wasn't until the railway arrived in the area that life began to look up for Des Moines and its long suffering inhabitants. Not only did the arrival of the railroad improve the economy in Des Moines, it was further bolstered by the discovery of coal. Mining the black mineral fuel became the main industry in Des Moines and it was one that attracted migrants to the city in numbers. Among those new arrivals were a group of Italians. They initially worked in the mines, but celebrated their heritage by organizing festivals and events. In later years they also began to open their own businesses and when pizzerias appeared on the streets of Des Moines they were there to stay, as was the Italian American Heritage Festival which continues to be held today.
Many of the Italian migrants who went to Des Moines to work in the coal mines made the three-hundred mile journey west from Chicago. While that might indicate they took with them the recipe for the popular Chicago-style deep dish pie, they didn't. They took instead the recipe for a pie that has become a firm favorite throughout the Midwest and Des Moines has become known for tavern-style pizza and with good reason. Tavern-style pies are made with a thin and crispy base that's a total treat to eat. Although they're quite often made in a rectangular shape, you'll also find circular ones being served in the pizzerias in Des Moines. They're mostly cut into squares rather than wedges though unless you specifically ask for your pizza to be cut into triangles. While they may be thin crust, don't expect to be able to fold your slice like you can a New York-style one either. Tavern-style is just too crunchy to do that.
The one thing you don't want to do when you're hungry and want a pie is to take chances. Avoid the risk of getting a mediocre one and order from Felix and Oscar's Restaurant. They make the best delivery pizza in Des Moines. Felix and Oscar's is located in a corner premises on Merle Hay Road and their take on pies is as modern as their restaurant. Behind the smoked-glass windows is a bright and spacious interior furnished with dark wood benches and marble-topped tables. They have a delivery service as up-to-date as their pizzeria so you won't be hanging around for ages waiting for your pie to arrive. Their menu isn't antiquated either but chock-full of interesting ingredient combinations that range from ground beef and tacos to chicken fajita. If you like your pizza hot and spicy, they've got a few of those on the menu that will suit you too.
There are some great things to do in Des Moines as well as fantastic park areas to explore. Don't waste your day by sitting in a restaurant, grab a take-out instead. You'll find the best take-out pizza in Des Moines comes from Goodson's on Beaver Avenue. Goodson's premises are housed in a renovated industrial unit. It's stylishly chic on the inside with lots of exposed brickwork and pipes. You won't feel crowded if you decide to sit down for a while as there's plenty of elbow room between the tables. Keep busy as you wait for your pizza to cook with the chalks they provide for customers to draw on the tabletops. It's great to be creative and Goodson's are with their pies too. Don't miss tasting their Drunken Hawaii, Boom, or Evil Son pizzas. Evil Son is off the scale spice-wise so make sure you get a drink to go with it.
To make an escape from the organized urbanization of Des Moines head for Prairie City twenty-two miles to the east. Outside the city is where the buffalo and elk roam over the tallgrass prairies of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. There may not be as many as there were wandering free back in the pioneering days, but the herd of fifty bison is a sight worth seeing. Before you head home from the range, pick up a pizza from Casey's on West 2nd Street.
Iowa is a landlocked state, but you can still hit the beach if you drive sixteen miles north of Des Moines to Polk City. Polk City is right on the southern border of the Big Creek State Park and there you'll find Big Creek Lake. On the lakeshore is a stunning stretch of sand where you can throw down your towel and catch some rays – weather permitting. If you get a pie from Papa's Pizzeria on Van Dorn Street, you can have a picnic on the beach too.
Indianola is a city around eighteen miles south of Des Moines where you will find one of America's most unusual museums. The National Balloon Museum and Ballooning Hall of Fame on Indianola's North Jefferson Way is dedicated to the sport of hot air ballooning rather than the colorful kid's birthday party kind. After you've floated around the fascinating exhibits and discovered the history of hot air ballooning, pop next door for a pie from the Pizza Ranch.
Q: 🍕 What restaurant has the best veggie pizza in Des Moines?
Q: 🍕 What restaurant has the best Chicago-style pizza in Des Moines?
Q: 🍕 What restaurant has the best New York-style pizza in Des Moines?
Q: 🍕 What restaurant has the best gluten-free pizza in Des Moines?